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The Coathangers’ Julia Kugel on Howlin’ Wolf – The Howlin’ Wolf Album

This year has been stuffed with great Hidden Gems and the latest continues the trend. After the release of one of their best album’s to date, The Coathangers’ Julia Kugel has passed along some wisdom from her own record shelves. If you’re unfamiliar with the band (which, frankly seems unlikely) their latest is a great place to start, boiling down their punk, post-punk, and garage impulses to a sound that’s serrated and sawing yet damnably hooky. The band is blessed with three strong songwriters, each bringing their own particular burn to the band and its great to get a look at what’s behind that burn, even just a bit. Julia chooses a conflicted blues classic for her entry. Check out her take on Howlin’ Wolf’s psychedelic period below.

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Mary Timony on Libraness – Yesterday and Tomorrow’s Shells

Having any connection to indie rock over the last 25 years there’s a good chance you’ve stumbled across the works of Mary Timony. From her groundbreaking work with Helium in the ‘90s to solo records that pushed the boundaries of guitar pop, the short-lived supergroup Wild Flag and now her excellent stint in power pop pummels Ex Hex – if you haven’t heard something from that resume, then you damn well should get listening. As Ex Hex embark on their second album Timony sent over a contribution to the Hidden Gems series, taking a look at an album she sees as woefully overlooked by the majority of the listening public. She chose an album close to her musically, the solo album by fellow Helium (and Polvo) member Ash Bowie as Libraness. Check out Mary’s assessment of the album and how it has affected her own writing and playing.

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Design Inspiration: Rob Carmichael [SEEN Studios]

I’ve got another great entry to the Design Inspiration series this week (if I do say so myself). If you’ve been even a tangential fan of indie rock over the past ten years, there’s a good chance that you’ve run into covers from Rob Carmichael aka SEEN Studios. From the iconic cover of Animal Collective’s Merrieweather Post Pavilion to career defining works for Panda Bear, Dirty Projectors, Dan Deacon, Born Ruffians, Beirut, The War on Drugs, Cloud Nothings, and Real Estate – Rob’s been shaping the look of indie as much as any designer in the field. As usual with this series, I asked him to name five of his favorite record covers of all time and to delve into how those covers have influenced his own works. Check his picks below and catch up with Rob’s work over at SEEN.

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Martin Frawley on Maurice Frawley and Working Class Ringos – Triple Skin Marquee

For anyone even remotely familiar with the site, they’d likley know that I have the softest of spots for Aussie indie. Naturally over the years Twerps found their way among the loves here at RSTB. The band’s early releases had a shaggy earnestness that shone through their fidelity limitations. It seems that Merge thought much the same and in 2015 they took a jump to the top tier indies before the band called it quits shortly after due to personal differences. In the wake Martin has struck out solo, spinning the band’s bare, honest jangle-pop into something more toughened and weathered, yet still with a cocked eyebrow and an ever-present smirk. Sounding like Harry Nilsson taking apart Townes Van Zandt songs, its a definite shift in tone, but a welcome progression for those that have had Frawley on the turntable these past few years. Seems there’s another influence on his solo LP, that of his late father Maurice, who’s own career tumbled through a few groups in the ’80s (Olympic Sideburns, Japanese Comix) and wound up in solo territory in ’90s and ’00s. Martin talks through his dad’s legacy and the imprint this record left on him and his new direction below.

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Design Inspiration: Aaron Lowell Denton

This is rapidly becoming one of my favorite features at Raven – a chance to hash out the formative touchstones that have given designers their outlook and approach. So far I’ve had designers with a longer foothold on the game, but now I’m glad to throw a spotlight on a newer name that has fast become a go-to for indie names looking for a classic touch. Aaron Lowell Denton’s been most noted for his posters and its easy to see why. His designs rely heavily on bold type and perfectly washed colors set into nostalgic forms that are hard to pin down, but tend to evoke an instant kinship with the piece. As he’s tipped more and more into album covers he’s racked up designs for EZTV, Bonny Doon, Neon Indian, and Wild Nothing among others. I asked Aaron to reach back for his top five covers and give a little background on why they’re the ones that stick out, and how they’ve helped shape his own approach to cover design.

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Masaki Batoh on Pearls Before Swine – Balaklava

As I mentioned in the review a few days ago, the work of Masaki Batoh has a pretty strong foothold in the roots of RSTB. Ghost in particular is a personal favorite, but the guitarists’ work has touched on higher burning psychedelic forms with The Silence and Cosmic Invention, twisted through experimental norms in his solo work and resonated deeply in his works with collaborator Helena Espvall of Espers. The latest solo outing, though, has felt like a coming home to the psychedelic folk and blues that first gripped me. As such its great to have Batoh contribute to the ongoing Hidden Gems series and tackle a release that he feels might not always get the proper due it deserves. Check below as Masaki discusses finding Pearls Before Swine’s underground classic Balaklava and the impact its had on his own writing.

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NRP: Razorcuts – The World Keeps Turning

Its been a while since I’ve gotten to dig into a Necessary Repress, but the list is long and heavy. For a refresher, the series aims to look at releases that have been left out of the vinyl boom and the constant savaging for every conceivable pop artifact to put back into circulation. This usually comes to a head around Record Store Day when labels look at rosters for any item they can cannibalize back into the market, without thinking about how necessary represses of best of compilations and unloved singles truly are. That’s not to say that there aren’t deserving corners of the market still left out of the spotlight, though. Its just never the ones you love, is it? In that regard, I submit the catalog of C86 / Creation alums Razorcuts, and more specifically, their excellent sophomore album The World Keeps Turning.

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Design Inspiration: Chris Reeder

There have been plenty of touchstone labels around here, but I’d wager to say that Rocket Recordings is up there in the top ten that get referenced on the site. Their take on psych and metal is always interesting and always quality, but aside from just digging up some of the best band, the label also embraces a spotless design aesthetic that I’ve always been attracted to. This comes largely in part from label heads Chris Reeder and John O’Carroll, who both contribute sleeves to their stable of releases. Design in psych and metal can either be transcendent (see Design Inspiration: Arik Roper) or drag the releases into parody. Reeder and O’Carroll fall squarely in the former camp, elevating their releases to art pieces visually as well as aurally.

Reeder and O’Carroll both agreed to contribute picks to Design Inspiration, but I’ll focus first on Chris Reeder. His sleeves have a clean design that’s crisp and classic at the same time, rendering them iconic each time. If you’re familiar with the output of Goat, GNOD, Lay Llamlas, Pigs x 7 and Hey Colossus, then you’ll have an idea of what I’m talking about. Chris dives into five of his all time favorites, but leaves the caveat: “It is really hard to pick only 5 sleeves as so many have meant so much over the years, but on the day I wrote this piece these are the 5 that I wanted to talk about.”

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RSTB Best of 2018: Reissues, Etc.

A large part of the site is not only focusing on new releases, but also the great reissues that are unearthed during the course of a year. Below are my picks for the best editions dug up by the hardworking folks on the reissue circuit. Every year there are less options to work from and every year labels continue to surprise me with what they bring out. I’m also going to take a moment to give tribute to an album that could have been this year but due to unfortunate circumstances didn’t make it to fruition.

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RSTB Best of 2018

So, it seems that 2018 is finally coming to an end. It’s been a hell of a year by most standards, but musically its been damn entertaining. Perhaps its fair that there’s some bright spot in all the chaos. Not to diminish the chaos, but when the negativity is at an all-pervasive fever pitch, its feels good to have something to hold onto. I’ll choose to remember 2018 as a banner year for music and for the birth of my second daughter rather than the year that page refresh politics threatened to give me an ulcer any day. Below are my favorite albums of the year, taking care to highlight some that might otherwise get forgotten. They’re in (quasi) alphabetical order with no other particular weight on the list. Keep your eyes out for a few more year-end features this week before I reset for the new year. As always, thanks for sticking with RSTB for these 12-odd years or so.

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